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Photos: Sandra Burn White

POSTED: 11 JANUARY 2010

Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Australian Shakespeare Company | Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens | Until 23 Jan

ALSO: Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens | Until 30 Jan

Surely there are few more exuberant, charming and enjoyable children’s stories than Kenneth Grahame’s classic woodlands tale, Wind in the Willows.

And just as surely, there can be few more wonderful and appropriate locations to stage the work than the main pond and surrounding lawns, trees and garden beds of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney — though the good burghers of Melbourne may well argue a case for their Royal Botanic Gardens, where the play is being staged concurrently.

Wind in the Willows has been a regular part of the Australian Shakespeare Company’s season for many years now, and its performers, directors and support staff are obviously very comfortable in the production.

From the moment that Head Chief Rabbit (James Evans) strolls across the lawn, very adeptly strumming his guitar, the company has the absolutely full attention of every ‘little rabbit’ crouched just behind the rope that demarcates the stage.

And are all those ‘little rabbits’ enthralled as he is joined by sly Weasel (Warwick Allsopp), jovial Ratty (Joseph Sullivan), wise, thoughtful Badger (Tony Coggin), slightly scatty Mole (Augusta Miller), the serious but somewhat confused Otter (Gerard Caroll, who doubles up as policeman and judge), the young Portly Otter (Jesse Luff, who rotates in the role with Archie Cogin and Henry Joe Nankervis) — and eventually, of course, by the absolutely over-the-top, unstoppable, totally lovable, roguish Mr Toad of toad Hall (Anthony Harkin)? Are they ever!

They quite happily fall in behind the crew for a move of a couple of hundred metres from the pond to Toad Hall, leaving the ‘big rabbits’ to follow with rugs, hampers and other essentials.

And there’s plenty to amuse those ‘big rabbits’, apart from the sheer joy of watching their ‘little rabbits’ so engrossed in joyful entertainment. There’s an almost constant ripple of chuckles in response to some clever double entendres, especially when Badger, Mole and Ratty lead the ‘little rabbits’ for a short excursion to the nearby Wild Woods.

Badger’s cheeky advance to one of the more elderly female ‘big rabbits’ was a charming highlight, appreciated by both recipient and audience.

Wind in the Willows is wonderful theatre for young and old alike. Long may it be held in the Australian Shakespeare Company’s repertoire.

CLICK HERE to email Oz Baby Boomers with a comment regarding this play or review.

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